Ducks and Geese

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Ducks and Geese, Pacific Northwest

Ducks, geese, and swans can be found wherever there's water, from the tropics right up to the arctic north,
Canadian Geese, Photo By Robert Logan

Ducks and Geese are among the most diverse and fascinating creatures there is. They inhabit every continent except Antarctica. There are so many of these birds here on our coast that it is simply amazing. They have such a variety in shape, color, and size.  The pacific northwest has many types of ducks and geese that never leave our shores, they stay year round and many others are here for part of the year.

Ducks, geese, and swans can be found wherever there’s water, from the tropics right up to the arctic north, when I worked in the Arctic, I was always fascinated by how many types of waterfowl nest there.

You can find the American Wigeon here on our shores, it is a very pretty duck. The male has a bright white flank and a white line on its crown, a dark green patch behind his eyes and a light grayish blue bill with a black tip. The female is a dull gray to light brown in color with the blue bill and its black tip.

The American Wigeon breeds in western North America as far as Alaska and returns to the southern portions of British Columbia including all of gulf islands.
American Wigeon Duck, photo by Bud Logan

The American Wigeon breeds in western North America as far as Alaska and returns to the southern portions of British Columbia including all of the gulf islands. Their nests are built on the ground in a depression lined with down and grass. The nest is concealed in tall weeds and grasses often far from the water. The female lays up to 12 cream colored eggs and incubates them for about 25 days. The young leave the nest soon after hatching and will have fledged by 8 weeks of age.

They prefer shallow freshwater ponds, marshes, lakes, and rivers but here on the island in winter, they can be found along our ocean shores in large groups, bunched together in floating rafts. Their diet includes aquatic plants, insects and mollusks. The American Wigeon is often found feeding with other ducks such as the mallards, golden eye ducks, and teals, who are much better at rooting up vegetation, these little birds will quite often steal food away from the other ducks as they return to the surface.

American Wigeon's have a preference for northern nesting areas, so their migration is more prolonged than the migration of ducks that breed farther south.
American Wigeon Duck, photo by Bud Logan
American Wigeons have a preference for northern nesting areas, so their migration is more prolonged than the migration of ducks that breed farther south. Wigeons will start moving south early in September, and the majority of the population that nest in Alaska will follow the Pacific Coast to Vancouver Island. Most will stay to winter here while others will continue on down the coast. Some go as far as California to winter.

In the spring you a real good chance of seeing the Black Brants as they stop over on their way north. The black brant goose is a small, stocky, dark sea goose about the size of a mallard duck, with a black head and a short black neck. There is an irregular shaped white patch around the neck that meets in the front, it has a blackish brown belly and breast, and a white rear end. The wings are dark, long and pointed, and contrast with its white marked flanks. The legs and feet are black, and it has a black bill. The western birds have more black on the breast and belly and more extensive white on the neck than the eastern birds. The juvenile doesn’t have a neckband, but has white edging to wing converts.

The black brant goose is a small, stocky, dark sea goose about the size of a mallard duck ,with a black head and a short black neck.
Black Brant Geese, photo by Bud Logan
They nest in Arctic coastal lowlands in Canada, Alaska, and Siberia. Brant geese nest in loose colonies. The nest is a depression in the ground on the tundra and is covered by a thick layer of down. It is usually placed near a water source. The female Brant lays 4 to 8 eggs. Both of the parents incubate the eggs. The young fledge in 40 to 50 days but remain close to the parents until the first migration is over.

Never venturing far from salt water, they migrate south to winter. Black Brant formerly wintered on the British Columbia coast, but it is believed this changed as a result of a decline in eelgrass in the 30s and ’40s plus over hunting for the Christmas table. Now, only a few winter on Haida Gwaii, and another group winter at Boundary Bay on the Lower Mainland, but the vast majority travel to coastal Western Mexico for the winter.

In the spring they head up the coast of North America stopping in British Columbia. Their arrival on Vancouver Island is a cause for celebration, as thousands of birds descend on coastal beaches and flats, to feed on eel grass.American Wigeon Duck, photo by Bud Logan

In the spring they head up the coast of North America stopping in the pacific northwest. Their arrival on Vancouver Island is a cause for celebration, as thousands of birds descend on coastal beaches and flats, to feed on eelgrass. The towns of Parksville and Qualicum Beach host a Brant Festival every April. This year (2016) my son and l observed a very large group feeding on herring spawn at miracle beach in the Campbell River area on the island.

The geese stay for a month or more, feeding and resting. Then, flock by flock, they leave on for the next leg of their long journey north.

Another one of my favorite ducks is the Harlequin Duck, a small, uncommon sea duck. Although, on the south coast, there is a large population of them.

The male is one of the most attractive sea ducks you will see, the adult male is striking and brightly colored. It has a blue-gray plumage, with brown withers, and streaks of white on various parts of its body and head, a white eye patch at the base of the short bill and a round white ear patch. The belly is grey.

The male Harlequin Ducks are one of the most attractive sea ducks you will see, the adult male is striking and brightly colored. It is characterized by a blue gray plumage, with brown withers, and streaks of white on various parts of its body and head, a white eye patch at the base of the short bill and a round white ear patch. The belly is grey.
Harlequin Ducks, Photo By Robert Logan
Females and young birds do not have the coloring of the males. The female has plain, brown color that is darkest on its head, a white patch extending below and in front of each eye, and a prominent white ear patch. The belly is white with brown speckles.

Immature birds resemble adult females. They have the white spot between the bill and eyes, as well as the prominent round ear patch but the feathers on the upper body of them are darker than those of adult females. The immature birds slowly gain their adult plumage over their first 3 years.

Harlequins spent most of their life in coastal marine areas. During winter, these ducks gather at traditional sites along the coast to feed in the winter seas. But in the spring they leave the coast and head up rivers and streams to breed.

Harlequin Ducks spend most of their life in coastal marine areas. During winter, these ducks gather at traditional sites along the coast to feed in the winter seas. But in the spring they leave the coast and head up rivers and streams to breed.
Harlequin Ducks, Photo By Robert Logan
After the nest is built, and the hen begins to lay her eggs, the male takes off. After leaving their mates, they migrate to specific sites to undergo their yearly molt. Females join males after her brood has left to go through her molt. They are back on the coast by November.

Harlequin ducks rely on a varied diet throughout the year.  During spring and summer, when Harlequins are on the nesting grounds, they feed mostly on insects and their larvae. The birds will dive to the bottom where they walk against the current, searching the stream bed for insect larvae.

During the winter months spent on the coast, they dive and feed in the wild waters of the winter storms. They search for small crabs, amphipods, gastropods, limpets, blue mussels, and fish eggs.

Harlequin ducks usually build their nests beside fast-flowing streams, they are one of the few types that do this.

The Harlequin Ducks are a small, uncommon sea duck. Although, on the south coast, there is a large population of them.Harlequin Ducks, Photo By Robert Logan

They will use the same nesting site for years. The nest could be built on the ground, in tree cavities, on rock ledges or in the bank of the river.  The hen will lay 8 to 10 eggs, she will incubate the eggs for about 29 days until they hatch.

The female leads her ducklings to secluded streams within one day of hatching. Here they learn to find aquatic insects and larvae in the cool and clear waters. The young are able to fly when they are about 4 weeks old. At this point, they are on their own.

Mallard Ducks can be found on rivers, ponds, lakes and along the shores of our island, the mallard is one of the most common and well-known waterfowl in the northern hemisphere.

Mallard Ducks, photo by Bud Logan
Mallard Ducks, photo by Bud Logan

 

The male has a glossy head and upper neck that are a brilliant green, separated from the rich chestnut of the breast by a white collar. The underparts and the sides are light greys. The back and wings of the bird are grayish brown, with a blue patch on the wing. The male has a yellow bill and orange legs and feet. They are called green heads.

The female Mallard Duck is a much less colorful bird. Its back is mottled brown, its breast is a combination of buff and darker brown. It is best recognized by the white-bordered blue patch on the wing. The female has an orange bill, that is sometimes blotched with black, and its legs and feet are orange.

Mallard Ducks are widespread, year-round residents of many areas in the pacific northwest, Mallards can be found near any shallow water source, including lakes, rivers, ponds, ocean bays and estuaries.

Mallard Ducks, photo by Bud Logan
Mallard Ducks, photo by Bud Logan

The Mallard is distributed throughout North America, Europe, and Asia and has been introduced to many other parts of the globe. Mallards are essentially freshwater ducks, although many winter on our coastal shores.

The nesting site is normally on the ground, the nest is little more than a depression lined with bits of plants, grass, weeds or other material close at hand. It is usually hidden in thick grass cover. The eggs, which may vary in color from dull green to almost white, are laid daily, up to 15 are laid

Incubation does not start until she has laid the last egg, this is so that all the ducklings will hatch at approximately the same time. The female uses down from her belly to line the nest. This not only helps keep the eggs warm but hides the eggs from crows, ravens, and other predators, which are quick to find unprotected eggs. The female will incubate the eggs for around 28 days. The ducklings emerge as handsome little balls of down. They are mostly brown with some yellow on them. As soon as the ducklings are hatched, the female leads them to the nearest water.

Once on the water, the female leads her brood to feeding areas. The young Mallard Ducks find their own food, which at first consists of small crustaceans and tiny plants.
Mallard Ducklings, photo by Robert Logan
Once on the water, the female leads her brood to feeding areas. The young find their own food, which at first consists of small crustaceans and tiny plants.

The young gradually lose they’re down and grow their feathers. In about 10 weeks they have assumed a plumage that is much like that of the female. and are on their own. The males remain with the females for the first 10 days of incubation. After that, they move to larger ponds and lakes, where they lose their breeding plumage. All their flight feathers are shed at once, and for about a month the birds cannot fly. They keep a low profile until their new feathers have grown in.

When the females have left their broods, they too gather on bigger ponds to molt. They also become flightless, but the new plumage they assume is little different from the one they have shed. In the late fall the young aquire the plumage of their respective sexes. The males, however, may take up to 2 years to get their full adult plumage.

Mute Swans are large birds that are capable of flight but prefer not to fly. Male swans are called cobs, female swans are pens, and young swans are known as cygnets. The mute swan has a long curved neck and an orange bill with a black knob at the base.
Mute Swan, photo by Bud Logan
We also have Mute Swans that visit, they are large birds that are capable of flight but prefer not to fly. Male swans are called cobs, female swans are pens, and young swans are known as cygnets. The mute swan has a long curved neck and an orange bill with a black knob at the base.

Mute Swans are about 1.5 meters long, with a wingspan of over 2 meters. They are found all over the Pacific Northwest. Mute swans inhabit ponds, lakes, marshes, rivers, and estuaries. These swans eat marine vegetation, grass, insects, mollusks, worms, small fish and frogs. They use their long necks to forage beneath the water’s surface for food.

They have no real voice but they are capable of making snorting sounds and hissing. These large birds are usually calm but can become aggressive when threatened. They are very capable of defending themselves and their territories with their large wings, beaks, and necks.

Mute Swans are able to breed at around three years old and they mate for life. A breeding pair will build a nest at the edge of the water out of dried grass, reeds and other plant matter.
Mallard Ducks, photo by Bud Logan
They are able to breed at around three years old and they mate for life. A breeding pair will build a nest at the edge of the water out of dried grass, reeds and other plant matter. Although the female does most of the nest building, the male assists with collecting nesting materials and egg incubation, up to 7 eggs will be laid in April or May.

Mute swan eggs take around 40 days to hatch. The newly hatched cygnets are a small grayish brown bundle of fluff. Mute swans are good parents, taking good care of the young and they can sometimes be seen with very young cygnets riding on their backs.

Mute Swans are one of the most beautiful birds on The BC Coast. Its always a pleasure to observe them in the wild.
Mute Swan, photo by Bud Logan
Mute Swans are one of the most beautiful birds in the Pacific Northwest. It’s always a pleasure to observe them in the wild. I knew a wild swan named Pete who upon seeing me would run up and put his head on my shoulder for a hug, he was a pretty cool bird.

The mute swan is a bird that was introduced by European immigrants. This is the swan that typically is featured in artwork and folklore. Mute swans are very beautiful to look at but are an undesirable exotic species that harass native waterfowl and uproot large quantities of aquatic vegetation. Almost all North American breeding populations of mute swans were established by the escape or accidental release of captive birds.

The Pacific flyway runs along our coast and the spring and fall migrations are just wonderful to observe. Migration of these birds is largely a learned behavior passed down from generation to generation. Ducks and geese navigate the way that other birds do, by using solar and celestial compasses along with an awareness of the earths magnetic fields.

Mallard Ducks, photo by Bud Logan
Mallard Ducks, photo by Bud Logan

In most other bird species, adults and juveniles migrate separately. Ducks and geese migrate in family groups for the southbound flight. This is when the young ones learn the path, the good stopover sites along with the good wintering grounds. Ducks tend to separate over the winter and head north by forming new groups. The hens have a strong need to return to their birthplace. Males do not and will simply follow the hens, as they mate with new hens each season, this will take them to a different site every year.

The geese, on the other hand, take several years to mature and quite often the family remains together for several migrations. Males pick their mates on the wintering grounds and usually mate for life.

The population of some geese is increasing at a very fast rate and causing problems on the nesting grounds. Snow geese are an example of this. An estimated 6 million birds now nest in Hudson Bay, they have become the most populated bird in the north. However other waterfowl populations are decreasing due to the disappearing wetlands and other migratory habitat and it is up to us to protect and increase remaining habitats for all migratory species.

The population of some geese is increasing at a very fast rate and causing problems on the nesting grounds. Snow geese are an example of this. An estimated 6 million birds now nest in Hudson Bay, they have become the most populated bird in the north.
Snow Geese, Photo By Bud Logan

These birds are incredible to observe and to see huge flocks heading north is a wonderful sight, all you need is a pair of field glasses, a camera and a notebook to record your sightings, a good pair of boots and a warm jacket and you’re on your way to seeing the wonders of the migrating birds. But be careful, you might become addicted, l have.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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